Astronomy 320



            A study of the structure and evolution of the Universe, with particular emphasis on observational results; a study of the properties and evolution of galaxies, radio sources and quasars.

Bare Bones Details

1.)   Nine weeks on cosmology; one on galaxy formation; then four on galaxies, quasars and radio sources.

2.)   Weekly reading assignments; some in reserve reading selections and/or professional journals.

3.)   Weekly homework sets and/or computer projects.

4.)   Three exams, all weighted equally; no cumulative final.

5.)   One short paper or class presentation and one ~10 page paper.

Gory Details

Course topics:  We will study in detail the classical Hot Big Bang model of the origin of the Universe, including matter- and radiation-dominated expansion, flat, open, and closed universes, the effect of a cosmological constant, and the Friedmann equations. We then turn to physical cosmology: the microwave background, nucleosynthesis, inflation, and other topics. Some General Relativity will be used, but any GR will be introduced as part of the course. About two-thirds of the course will be on cosmological topics, and the remaining time will be on extragalactic astronomy, including spiral and elliptical galaxies, active galaxies, and galaxy formation. Both theoretical and observational evidence will be presented for the various phenomena we study. One goal of the course is to introduce students to the “hot” research topics in this area of astronomy.

Course flavor:  The course is intended for juniors or seniors majoring in astronomy or physics. It will be good preparation for those intending to go on to graduate school. Prerequisites are
Astro 206, Introduction to Astrophysics II and Phys 214, “Introductory Quantum Mechanics,” or equivalent.

Besides helping you learn cosmology and extragalactic astronomy, an important goal of the class is to help you develop the skills of a research scientist. These include performing literature searches, reading technical papers, writing technical prose, giving oral presentations, and listening to oral presentations. Thus, grades will be based on two papers (presented both orally and in writing), as well as regular homework and exams.

Textbook:  This year we’ll be using Barbara Ryden’s Introduction to Cosmology, with lots of supplementary reading. It’s a somewhat breezy book, but at about the right level.

Approximate Syllabus


Review of astronomical jargon and parameters (largely review from 206)

Global properties of the Universe (ditto)

Hubble expansion and the Hubble constant, H0

The Robertson Walker metric

Dynamics of the “dust” Universe

Adding pressure and the cosmological constant to the above

The Steady State model as an example

Look-back time and cosmological tests


Measures of H0

Measures of the age of the Universe

The “Classic Cosmological Tests” and the problem of source evolution; using Type I SNe instead

Evidence for accelerated expansion

Number counts of radio sources

The mean density of the Universe and “dark matter”


Evidence for the hot Big Bang--the CMB

Temperature evolution of the Universe

The Planck era

GUT’s and the inflationary model

The epoch of nucleosynthesis

Decoupling at z ~ 1000

Cosmological parameters from the CMB

The origin of structure in the Universe; galaxy formation


Properties of spiral and elliptical galaxies

Active galaxies; radio and X-ray sources

Quasars; the unified model

The intergalactic medium

Questions? Call or e-mail Bruce Partridge at 896-1144 or